Using or marked by the use of few words; terse or concise.
[Latin Lacōnicus, Spartan, from Greek Lakōnikos, from Lakōn, a Spartan (from the reputation of the Spartans for brevity of speech).]
Synonyms: laconic, reticent, taciturn, tightlipped
These adjectives describe people who are sparing with speech. Laconic denotes terseness or conciseness in expression, but when applied to people it often implies an unwillingness to use words: "Mountain dwellers and mountain lovers are a laconic tribe. They know the futility of words" (Edna Ferber).
Reticent suggests a reluctance to share one's thoughts and feelings: "She had been shy and reticent with me, and now ... she was telling me aloud the secrets of her inmost heart" (W.H. Hudson).
Taciturn implies unsociableness and a tendency to speak only when it is absolutely necessary: "At the Council board he was taciturn; and in the House of Lords he never opened his lips" (Thomas Macaulay).
Tightlipped strongly implies a steadfast unwillingness to divulge information being sought: He remained tightlipped when asked about his personal life.
Word History: The city of Sparta, the main city of the region of Laconia in the very south of mainland Greece, vied with Athens for the domination of Greece in ancient times. In order to foster and maintain a martial spirit, the Spartan upper classes endured a regimented life whose rigor was a source of amazement to their fellow Greeks. Once, when someone asked why the Spartans did not have magnificent city walls like other Greek cities, the Spartan king Agesilaus simply pointed to his fellow citizens, armed to the teeth, the most formidable soldiers in Greece: "Here are the walls of the Spartans." The austere life of the Spartan people is still remembered today when English speakers use the adjective spartan to describe a frugal meal or an ascetic lifestyle. The Spartans trained the mind as well as the body, and their speech was as pointed as their spears. The English adjective laconic, from Greek Lakōn "an inhabitant of Laconia, a Spartan," reflects the Spartan reputation for incisive brevity when speaking and the value they placed on not mincing words.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
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